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Chapter Text

“Finally, the goddamn safe room!” Nick sighed in relief.

He had enough of this God-forsaken swamp. He was tired, cold, wet, and about 30 other things that left him miserable. His once-pristine white suit was probably no longer salvageable. A Hunter nearly drowned Ellis, Coach was at the mercy of a Jockey on more than one occasion, and sometimes, he’d be sniping Smokers only to find his team had moved on. Not to mention, you can’t see Spitter shit under the murky water. Rest was just one wooden ramp away. And even with that, there was some goddamn Witch moaning and sobbing, probably out in the reeds or something. 

Nick was the first one up the ramp, eager to finally get inside. He backpedaled up the short walkway, on the lookout for the incoming horde – they tended to conveniently appear whenever the team reached the safe room. Luck was never on their side. (He was still alive, though, so that had to count for something…)

Something made contact with the back of his calf. Nick nearly tripped over it, but fuck he were to actually let that happen. Brow furrowed in annoyance, Nick turned to see what it was. 

He’d never sprinted so quickly in his life. 

The goddamn Witch had been standing up. She was making that horrible, guttural growling shriek of hers, and Nick wondered how he didn’t notice how close he was to her. 

Nick dashed down the ramp, brushing arms with someone else, heading in the opposite direction. It was Ellis, prancing up with a chainsaw and no care in the world. 

“ELLIS!” Nick yelled after the boy. He was bound to get himself killed if he didn’t realize…

“Don’ worry Nick! I got this!” Ellis called back over the revving of his chainsaw. Nick grimaced and started to follow.

Ellis’ agonized cries a few seconds later told Nick that he didn’t really “have this” in any way, shape, or form.

The team converged to take out the Witch, then proceeded to carry Ellis’ bloodied mass to the nearby safe room.

“Usu'lly works…” he mumbled half-consciously.

The kid was still alive, thankfully, but he definitely needed at least a couple of nights’ rest before they could keep moving. They weren’t sure if they had time for that, but it was important to stay as far away from half-dead as possible when out of the safe rooms.

As Coach was doing the best he could to patch up Ellis’ injuries, Rochelle grinned at Nick with amusement. He returned her a quizzically indignant look.

“Your face back there… you sure you didn’t wet yourself, Nick?” the woman chuckled. The angry expression she got in reply only made her chuckle more. 

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“No, no, no, man, git away!” Ellis yelled at the Tank. Tanks never listen.

A swift punch to Ellis’ everything sent him flying into the seats, much worse for the wear. He probably wasn’t getting up anytime soon.

The Tank turned, its head and beady eyes looking towards the stage. Rochelle and Nick collectively gulped. They knew they were next. 

With a mighty roar, the Tank leaped out of the stands, accessing the stage easily with the ramp. Rochelle desperately needed more bullets, so she darted to the ammo left astray in front of the microphone and snatched it up, hoping that she’d made the right choice.

It wasn’t. She was slammed off the stage by a massive forearm, half-consciously rolling in the dirt below. 

With Rochelle out of commission, Nick was alone, and Coach was God-knows-where. He grit his teeth and started to run backwards, emptying the assault rifle’s whole magazine on the behemoth. He simultaneously turned forward and began to reload. Unfortunately, the conman turned a little too late – he slammed into a few zombies, halting any getaway he was planning to make. Shame, he was usually good at that sort of thing. 

Nick was soon acquainted with gigantic chunk of earth, and consequently, the earth itself. He hissed in pain at the impact, now stuck underneath the ground that the Tank so kindly heaved onto him. He still had a pistol and a free arm, and shot after the beast, but the attack was weak and his aim was hardly passable. 

The Tank, no longer seeing the man in the suit as any sort of threat, began to look for the final survivor. And there he was – the large man was up in the stands, helping the smaller boy to his feet. The Tank wouldn’t have any of that, no sir. 

The beast let out his mighty roar, bounding up the staircases to where the two were starting to get away. Unfortunately, the mechanic could hardly walk, much less run. Ellis knew he wasn’t going to make it – he couldn’t stay up without holding onto something – but he sure tried to get the hell out of there. He couldn’t do much more than yelp when the Tank squashed him against the wall like a fly, and crumple into a bloody heap once gravity took over again. 

Coach had no time to stare in horror from where he was next to the control panel. Both he and the Tank knew they were the only ones left, and Coach wasn’t about to give up without a fight. He was in good condition, with most of his injuries minor and easy to ignore. The big man took off sprinting, the Tank hot on his heels.

The flying cement chunks of the stands never hit Coach, but every single one of his own shots made their mark. This made the Tank frustrated, and it showed in its enraged bellow. And Coach was glad for that. Ready to take the wild goose chase to the open area below, he hopped out of the stands straight to the ground.


His knee. 


Now he’d gone and done it. 

A jump like that was nothing to the Tank. It caught up with Coach, bashing him into a perfect arc to the ground. Coach rolled a bit before straining to pick himself up again. If he didn’t think of something fast, he was doomed. Perhaps, he could get the Tank stuck? 

Coach decided to give it a try, running up the ramp on the side, hoping his crazy route would work to his advantage. 

Surprisingly, it did. The Tank stumbled slightly on the ramp, giving Coach a chance to break towards the microphone. 

…But damn, his knee was burning. He couldn’t run any faster. The Tank wasn’t too far behind him now. He made the small jump off the stage – it hurt, but luckily didn’t cause any new injuries – and started hobbling past the now-unconscious Rochelle. He spotted Nick, who was still awake, and shot him a sympathetic look. He really wanted to help. But both of them knew that doing so was a death trap. Coach pressed on. 

Nick could only feebly watch the Tank, now a flaming terror from passing through the firework show, smack Coach towards the far end of the stadium, before the blazing body finally collapsed.

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Zoey sighed wistfully, watching the stock car start away.

Francis and Louis both relaxed, gladly accepting this new period of rest. They were almost home free. The three exchanged silent glances, the same thoughts on their minds – Good luck, hang on, stay safe. We’ll all be okay.

But – aside from the car’s engine – something broke the silence. A man’s voice. It was that suit guy – Nick – wasn’t it? The three were suddenly alert again, looking back in the direction of the car.

“Hunter’s got Rochelle!”

…Weren’t they all in the car?

How did they let a Hunter into the car?!

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Rochelle never felt more like an idiot in her life.

She’d just screwed over her entire team.

They’d been zigzagging all over the place – if they weren’t wading through the ravine, they were climbing over cars and buses. The survivors had finally made it to some sort of station – there was an empty medical tent, a trailer, and an open 12-wheeler with ammunition inside – and there was no way to move on except through the fence. That problem wasn’t too hard to solve; blow it up! 

She didn’t know why she didn’t think of or expect the debris. She knew some sort of heavy scrap metal had fallen on her, and, damn, it hurt. 

Rochelle almost started to alert them to her situation, before she craned her head to see that all three of the boys – Ellis, Nick, and Coach – had the same exact problem. 

“Rochelle!” Nick yelled, clearly none too happy. “What the fuck did you just do?!”

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Nick sat patiently in the tattoo parlor, waiting. No, not for a tattoo.

They knew the horde wouldn’t come until they turned on the radio. It was all a rather strange situation. Ellis suggested, just for fun, to get their minds off things, a game of hide-and-go-seek. Nick thought it was the dumbest thing in the world. But for some reason, here he was, sitting in a dark corner, staring awkwardly at the bloodied corpse of a girl in the chair nearby. If only Ellis could see his face right now.

It was a long while. Nick had long gotten bored, rhythmically firing his pistol at the wall, tracing some sort of non-objective form next to the sample designs. And he’d even gotten bored of that, so he stopped. 

Finally. There she was. Rochelle sped past the booth he was in, apparently checking the back-most one first. Nick slid out of the shadow he’d taken shelter under, and stepped back out the door.

“Hey!” Rochelle yelled after him. Nick shot her an impish grin before ducking into the pool hall. Like an expert escape artist (and he thought he was pretty damn good at that), Nick found his way to the other side of the sewage ditch, right near the pub they’d started at. He turned around and stared back through the haze at the muck and the building, looking out for that telltale flash of pink. A few minutes passed, and no such thing crossed his view.

Ellis had approached Nick at this point, having already been caught. 

“Isshe lost? Go easy on ‘er, Nick!” Ellis implored, and Nick narrowed his eyes in irritation.

“Relax,” he huffed, looking back out in the distance. The two stared some more for a period of time, but Rochelle never emerged from the fog. 

Nick glanced over at the mechanic, who was giving him the most unusual of glares.

“Alright, fine! I’ll go look for her. Watch, I’ll turn around and she’ll be right there,” Nick grumbled lowly, reluctantly hopping back into the ditch. If there was one thing he hated, it was sewage. 

He trudged through to the ladder, carefully scaling it back into the pool hall, looking around. No Rochelle there. He decided to just sit and wait in the building, tired of running around. Could they just get to a safe room already? 

Nick turned, spotting the nearby jukebox. He figured, what the hell. Clicked it on.

He turned back around, and lo and behold. Rochelle nudged him with her baseball bat.

“Found you,” she said with a laugh. Nick had to frown at that.

“Yeah, yeah. I was lookin’ for you too, you know,” he complained, following her out as they returned to their 'base’.

Rochelle only laughed more.

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"Alright, y'all... just like they wrote! 'Are you ready to fiesta?'"

Coach looked at his team, flare in hand and ready to fire.


Rochelle wore the kind of shit-eating grin you could only wear after you made a high-calibur shitty pun, as Ellis furrowed his brow and Nick made a big show of rolling his eyes and mouthing 'oh my god'. A girl's gotta get her laughs too once in a while, she'd reasoned with him. Whatever, Nick had said. Puns suck.

"Gahahahaha! Okay... get ready!" At least Coach got it. Not a few moments after he pulled the flare gun's trigger came the familiar but still dreadful roar of infected. "Let's get it on!"

As they saw the helicopter ahead approaching the top of the building they were next to, the group began their rushed climb. Coach hated stairs, but honestly?

Tanks were much worse than stairs. No wonder there were so many holes in the exterior of the building. How was it still standing?

But there was no time to wonder; Ellis had already gotten knocked a few yards off his feet, by the sound of his yell. Each cursing, the three other remaining survivors opened fire on the tank... this wasn't the first time they were in a man-down-and-loose-tank situation. With enough time, and enough care, the tank was down, and Ellis was back on his feet... a little worse for the wear. 

And getting worse! The next floor featured a new tank. "I can't fucking believe--" Nick's complaint was drowned out by the sounds of rubble crashing around them. Concerned for their youngest's physical state, Coach ordered Rochelle to guide their limping Ellis up the next stairwell while he and Nick wore down the next one. Nick scoffed, but complied as he and Coach split and began to play distraction, gunning down this tank. But, of course...

As Rochelle and Ellis started up the stairs, another tank was making its way down... no doubt drawn in by the noise below. Neither of them had any time to even experience disbelief before the upstairs tank started swinging its arms at them. 

"Aw, SHIT!" Coach had that opportunity, however. The exclamation drew the previous tank away from Nick, at the very least, who had never done so much dodging in his entire life. Now that he could take a second to stop running and diving, he settled himself in and opened fire, blood bursting off the tank's backside. This became Coach's chance to fire his shotgun almost point blank in the tank's face. Their damage was enough, and the tank staggered backwards, collapsing into a fleshy mess.

When they both looked back at the new, third floor tank, Ellis had been shuffling away as best as he could, but they saw him take one more limp before a sweeping arm knocked him prone. Sighing heavily, Nick pulled out the adrenaline shot he was saving and stuck himself, moving swiftly to take aim with his rifle... but it just clicked and did nothing. He didn't even have the capacity to curse about it, growling in frustration as he threw the useless ammo cartridge on the ground. 

He then drew a katana.

Coach later laughed at Nick, "You were being a crazy-ass, Nick. Don't do that ever again." (Nick responded in kind. "I'm not doing that ever again. So don't bring it up ever again.") 

It was pretty uncharacteristic for "I hate germs" Nick to take to melee combat, but apparently, when you have no ammo and you're hopped up on adrenaline, that's what it comes to. But Nick taking swings at this tank gave Coach enough of a moment to get poor Ellis off the ground and hand him some pills. Nick didn't waste any time, though, seeing Ellis back on his feet meant that he could now hurry them up and get the hell out of dodge. "C'mon! Let's go!" 

As quickly as they could, the trio ran up the stairs, Coach and Ellis firing back hoping to slow the tank... where was Rochelle? 

The next floor was clear enough, aside from the tank arm Nick nearly tripped over... to the relief of the entire group, this tank was already faceplanted on the ground, and there was just a couple of odd infected here and there. 

Rochelle was already on the rooftop. She turned to the cockpit and pointed towards the group, though the wind and whirring drowned out her words. 

By the time the tank finally burst out of the stairwell, the helicopter had taken to the air, and the four survivors it pursued inside. The tank roared and slammed its fists on the ground, and the chorus of fine dust and large chunks of cement hissing and clacking together sang out to the departing survivors. The tank sunk into the building, and the survivors were flown out of the city.

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"Hey! That zombie's got somethin'!" 

Ellis turned as the armored zombie sped past him, eyes on his biohazardous prize. Coach and Rochelle were already up ahead getting the safe room opened up, so Nick sighed in frustration as -- he didn't even have to look to know -- Ellis gave chase. Like a dog seeing a squirrel.

"Ugh... Ellis!" 

Coach and Rochelle exchanged looks of disbelief with each other, and then with Nick standing a few yards away. Sighing another deep sigh, Nick also turned and headed after Ellis. He'd drag this kid back to the safe room if that's what it took. And with the moans and groans of Infected increasing in volume and number, no one really had any time to be chasing after some runaway zombie who happened to have some Boomer Bile clipped to his belt. No one. But somehow, Ellis thought this was reasonable.

"Ellis, let's just get back to the--"

The slipping, and the thud of Ellis's boots hitting the ground below... before he knew it, Ellis had jumped the fence to chase this zombie. 


They had already run so far up the ramp to the safe room, only to be undone by one southern kid's stupid impulses. 

"N-Nick! Watch out!" 

Rochelle's call was followed with a metallic door slam, and the characteristic grumble of a nearby Charger. It seemed like it was lowering its shoulder in slow motion, but Nick's reflexes to get the hell out of dodge took over. Before he realized it, he was on the other side of the railing, with a nasty growl down by his feet, and the roar of a horde closing in fast.

Rochelle watched Coach's expression, fighting to keep his composure as he turned away from the safe room door's window. She felt ill, herself, and sat in a corner with her ears covered. Two voices in that pandemonium were clearer than the rest, and she couldn't bear to hear their screams.